Horror anthologies are a decidedly risky proposition for moviegoers. Because they feature the works of different directors, the style and quality often varies wildly. And yet, the success or failure of a film depends on the sum of all its parts.
That’s a problem for Phobia (aka 4Bia), a collection of four short horror films from Thailand. It begins, not with a bang, but a whimper.
Although the opening credits promise copious gore, the first part, Happiness, is a mundane little ghost story that takes place exclusively in one apartment, with little dialogue and only one character. A single and lonely woman, confined to her apartment with a broken leg, receives SMS text messages from beyond the grave.
Directed by Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, a man better known for making comedies, the first half of Happiness is completely devoid of atmosphere. Waiting for something – anything – to happen is like watching the phone, waiting for it to ring, which is effectively what the central character is doing for much of the film. The payoff, when it does finally come, is silly and predictable. The ‘twist ending’ isn’t much better.
Things do at least get a little bit more interesting in the second segment, Tit For Tat. A group of youths get revenge on a young kid who inadvertently got them expelled from school. Seriously injured by an act of intimidation gone awry, the young kid exacts bloody retribution. Using a cursed picture that dooms all who see it to a bloody death (ala The Ring), he kills the youths off, one by one.
This segment is difficult to watch, not because of the violence, but the extensive use of shaky cam and high-octane editing. Paween Purikitpanya’s hyperactive direction is more than just disorientating, it’s nauseating. Cheap CGI notwithstanding, Tit For Tat does have a good, darkly comic ending, and although it’s unintentionally funny at times, at least it’s a welcome change of pace.
The third short film, In The Middle, is a more traditional, middle-of-the-road ghost story with elements of comedy (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing after the full-on visual assault of the previous segment), about four friends on a camping trip in the jungle. One night they tell each other ghost stories, when one of them jokes that if he dies he’ll come back and haunt whichever one of his friends sleeps in the middle of the group. You see, according to one of their stories, whomever sleeps on the edge of the tent is most likely to be killed in the night. When that person goes missing in a kayaking accident the very next day and is presumed drowned, that joke comes back to haunt them, literally.
Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, In The Middle is much more self-aware than the other short films in this collection. It’s filled with references to other films, including The Sixth Sense, The Others and even Titanic, and it pokes fun at various conventions of the horror genre. Although the casting is excellent (they perfectly encapsulate what it’s like to be on a camping trip with your mates), in the end it’s a fairly underwhelming, throwaway segment.
Keeping with the gradual increase in quality, Last Fright is easily the best of the four. An airhostess has to escort the body of a dead princess, with whose husband she had an affair, home for burial on an empty flight. Alone in the cabin with the princess’ wrapped-up body, things become decidedly spooky when the plane encounters a storm mid-flight.
Although it’s a tad slow to begin with, Last Fright is an efficient, Twilight Zone-esque morality tale. Although it’s nothing new, nor is it as flashy as some of the other segments, it’s actually quite a lot of fun. The claustrophobic setting works well, and director Parkpoom Wongpoom gets good mileage out of what is clearly just a dummy wrapped in a sheet.
Amongst all the lame jump scares and largely uninteresting stories, all four films have brief moments of promise, particularly the last two, but they’re few and far between. One half decent segment and a few bright moments in an otherwise rubbish anthology of short horror films is not enough to make Phobia worthwhile.
There’s nothing of interest here, with only heavily-edited and uninteresting cast and crew interviews, and a theatrical trailer that spoils some of the half decent bits of the four films.
Phobia is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.